Home School Hazards

Heather Handley, DVM
Senior Consulting Veterinarian, Clinical Toxicology
Pet Poison Helpline

When it comes to children, it is pretty standard to have “non-toxic” school supplies. That makes sense, but what does “non-toxic” mean? A product will get that label if its use is not expected to cause adverse health events. For example, a child may taste a crayon or eat after using one without there being a risk of serious harm to the child.

However, the labeling agencies don’t consider that a child might eat an entire box of crayons at once. Our four-legged children aren’t always so discriminating about what they put in their mouths or what they roll in. That is when we must think outside of the box.

Now let’s look around the home-school setup. What would a dog or cat get into that a child might not?

  • Electrical cords! If the cord is chewed while it is plugged in, and electric surge could injure your pet. Some may lead to burns in the mouth, while higher currents may lead to more life-threatening events.
  • Batteries! Devices in your home may be dry cell, rechargeable, or disc batteries. Although they work differently, chewing or swallowing a battery can lead to very serious burns.
  • Markers, pencils, and erasers can be a risk for injuring or getting stuck in the intestines.

Take heed as well if you will be getting crafty or doing science demonstrations at home. Ingredients such as salt, boric acid, oils, yeast, Alka seltzer,  magnets, baking soda, vinegar, iodine, and hydrogen peroxide should not be ingested in large amounts, as toxicity may result.

Children often have snacks left over in their school bags including boxes of raisins, granola bars or sugar free products.  Raisin ingestions may result in acute kidney failure and should not be in an area accessible to pets.  Granola bars often contain raisin paste and may also contain chocolate, which should be avoided in animals.  Many sugar free products use xylitol as a sweetener.  Dogs are extremely sensitive to xylitol, which can cause low blood sugar and possibly liver damage to occur.

Whether your children are returning to the classroom or will be participating in remote learning this fall, your kids and pets can have a safe and successful school year by discussing the importance of protecting your pets from dangerous things and making sure your children are comfortable telling you if they accidentally dropped something that may be toxic. Baby gates are also a great way to keep your kids and pets separated when playing with playdoh or other toxins during craft or science time.

Even if you are extremely careful, accidents happen.  If you are ever concerned your pet ingested something toxic, please seek immediate veterinary care or call Pet Poison Helpline to see if the ingestion warrants a trip to the veterinarian.